what does a test measure?

A few months ago I saw a notice for a Korean class offered by Daegu’s YMCA. Attached was an email address to send off for an application and level test. I had a few free months in front of me and thought I might try to learn Korean again, so I sent off for the test.

I completed the test and sent it in. Until this point, all correspondence had been conducted in English. The following day this email arrived:

Hello , Anne

Thanks for the mail.

한국어를 잘 하네요. 지금 아침 화요일 , 금요일 인텐시브 반에는 높은 레벨 반이 없어요.

하지만 지금 높은 레벨 수준의 학생이 없어요.

개인 수업은 어때요 ? 개인 수업으로 토픽이나 말하기 수업을 할 수 있어요.


감사합니다 ^^

Followed soon after by this one: 

아 그리고 한국어 테스트는 모두 맞았어요!

 말하기 테스트가 필요해요.

 혹시 이번주 토요일에 와서 말하기 테스트를 할 수 있어요?


To summarize: You’re good at Korean, and we don’t have a class for your level. Would you consider private lessons? You can take speaking or TOPIK as private lessons. You answered every question correctly on the level test. You need a speaking test. Could you come in on Saturday morning? Let us know.

The experience made me think a lot about book tests. The YMCA’s level test was based on the Sogang Intermediate book. I recognized the characters, situations, and questions. I’d “done” the book before and so I had no problem answering the questions. The problem was that I couldn’t answer the e-mail. I knew every page of Sogang’s Intermediate Korean book and could not string together a response in real life if it didn’t use structures from the book.

I’ve made my share of tests, taking sentence structures and vocabulary from the books my students have been using without any thought to how they’d use language in real life.

Now I wonder….

Is it fair to test students on material that goes beyond the scope of the book? 
…When the test results affect their grades?
…When the test results affect them emotionally?
…When they are learning English just to pass tests?

Is it fair not to? 
…When they may need to use real English in real communication in real life?
…When they need the confidence to answer an email or respond to a request?
…When they the book does not supply the randomness and unpredictability of a conversation?

What do you think?

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  • The Waegukin  On September 7, 2013 at 6:15 am

    I’m curious what reply you wanted to give that you felt you couldn’t manage in Korean? Because it seems to me you could have answered using fairly simple structures – 할수있다, 못하다, 올거예요. This is not criticism, but I think it gets to the answer to your question. I wonder if you felt inhibited by the possibility of making a grammatical error?

    Taking a language class is super-educational for a language teacher. It definitely gives you an insight into what your students go through.

    The question you ask relates to communicative competence, and is really important. In your case you’ve studied the materials, but felt inhibited to actually use them to communicate, which is a problem you see all the time with Korean students. To answer your question, yes I think they should be tested on material beyond the scope of the book – but in doing so they should be judged on their ability to effectively communicate, and not marked down for minor errors of form or grammar. And you need to prepare them for language practice in this manner beforehand.

    And I think you should take a swing at answering that email in Korean. The Korean teachers at Daegu YMCA are pretty cool – they’ll understand what you mean to say, even if you don’t say it perfectly.

    • livinglearning  On September 7, 2013 at 9:07 am

      Ah, yes. You’re right of course. I can certainly answer the email. But I am also aware from many years of listening that people don’t speak (and emails are “spoken” for the most part) the way textbook characters do. I can answer the email, but I can’t say what I want to say. I can’t explain that I don’t study very well in private lessons and I’d prefer a class. I can’t say that my receptive abilities are much higher than my expressive abilities.

      I like and am inclined to agree with what you say about testing. I guess there can be a portion of the test where accuracy is important, that follows the things they’ve learned from the book and another portion where expressing themselves in a new situation understandably is important and accuracy is only important in so far as it facilitates or impedes comprehensibility.

      On the other hand, I often wonder about comprehensibility. Less and less I find myself able to step out of 11 years in Korea and decide whether something would be comprehensible to, say, your average American who’d never left the States and isn’t used to hearing English the way many Koreans use it.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments and for stopping by and reading.

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